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Combating Corruption
by Vijai Pant

While big political scams make waves, a little greasing of the palm here and there, with we sometimes taking the initiative to facilitate ‘ease of doing business’ (pun intended) in our daily lives hardly raises any eyebrows till someone stupid like me candidly confesses and shares with the readers the memories of that unforgettable journey to a renowned hill station.

My wife, like so many others, had become a die-hard anti-graft crusader at the height of the movement for a strong ombudsman in the India of August 2011. In fact, she personally wanted to be a part of the movement. It was her motherly duties towards the little one which dissuaded her. But, of course, that did not prevent her from getting enamoured of the sea of humanity wearing Gandhi caps and waving the tricolor. “Things look so promising,” she would gush.

The movement had also caught the fancy of the people of my home state, with flash mobs pouring out on the roads to vent their ire against the all prevalent bribe culture.

It was in the midst of such a surcharged atmosphere that we had to go up to the hills to attend a family function. En route while stopping for tea we were told by the chaiwalla, presumably another anti-graft crusader like us, how Gandhi topis had been selling like hot cakes in the region and also how people’s patience against corruption was wearing thin.

While we were having our tea and listening to the shop owner’s tirade against the corrupt practices of the high and mighty, my wife reminded me that if we do not cross the toll barrier, which was another 25 km from there, before 3 pm, we would have to shell out double the amount. The rule was that the entry fee increased to a pinching 100/- from a modest 50/- for vehicles entering the hill station after 3.

I hurriedly gave a fifty rupee note to the stall owner. He replied that he had no change and literally forced us to have some buns. We were a little sour at his attitude, as we perceived him to be yet another ‘comrade in arms’ in the fight against corruption. While heading towards our car I thought I heard him say to his helper that there was no other way to get rid of those stale buns. So much for a united fight against corruption!

As the vehicle started its painful ascent from there, I was exhorted by my wife to press on the accelerator. It was past 2 pm and there was still a lot of distance to cover before reaching the toll post. Despite my best efforts, we reached the toll a shade past 3pm, which, with a little flexibility could have gone our way. However, the person manning the toll refused to budge and, justifiably, demanded 100/-.

As I unsuccessfully tried to reason with him, my wife called him to her side, rolled the window down and thrust a crumpled 50/- note into his hands. Before he could say anything, she remarked, “No! No! We don’t want a receipt. You may keep this.” His tough expression quickly changed to a helpful one. He promptly slid the barrier to one side and the vehicle sped away, leaving a trail of dirt behind.